Fortification Friday: Mines! The exploding obstacle.

The last sort of obstacle described by Mahan in regard to field fortification was the mine.  The word “mine” is itself rather quirky when applied to military science.  The word use is arguably consistent, in that a mine is a concealed explosive device.  However, through the centuries the physical form and functionality of the mine has varied.  Furthermore, in the Civil War context, the term “torpedo” applied to many sorts of “mines”.  Thus we have another term which should be understood in context.

When we say “land mine”, to be specific to field fortifications, now days we think of something like this:


The idea is to bury or other wise conceal this sort of weapon in a location that the enemy might use as a avenue of approach. This particular Chinese mine is typical of modern types, in that it has a trigger.  Once in place, it does not require involvement of the defender.  Just an unlucky attacker (or innocent civilian as happens too often) to trigger the weapon by movement or influence.  There are scores of variations used for triggering and detonation – trip wires, magnetic influence, motion detection, simple pressure plate, and such.  And there are several different variations regarding what the weapon does when triggered, based on the intended effect – anti-personnel or anti-tank being most frequently cited.  Of course, we know of “torpedoes” that were used in this manner… well, not anti-tank of course… during the Civil War.

However, not all mines are triggered by the attacker’s missteps.  Other types are designed to set off at an opportune moment by an operator.  Command detonated is the phrase often applied.  This may be done via electrical signal or some sort of time fuse.  And please understand such mines could be used by the attacker as well as the defender.  The Petersburg mine is a famous example of a command detonated mine used for offensive needs.  But we’ll deal with the mine in siege operations at a later post.

Mahan was familiar with command detonated mines in the pre-Civil War days.  Even if he was not high on their use:

Mines. Attempts at applying mines to the defense of field works have seldom proved successful, owing to the rapid character of the assault, from which the mines are usually sprung too soon or too late; so that the only effect that can be counted upon for their use is the panic they may create.

In addition, let us consider setting off explosive devices in close proximity to defensive fortifications might well undo those structures.  So the defender had to be wary about placement.  And if placed too far from the works, the mine was of little use to break up the attack.  Worst case scenario, a mine would create a crater from which the enemy gained purchase near the works.  All considerations that spoke against the use of mines for most situations.

But that is not to say all command detonated mines were discouraged.  Mahan felt one specific employment had merit:

There is one species of mine denominated a stone-fougasse, which it is thought might be successfully applied to the defense of the ditches and salients of field works. To make this mine, an inclined funnel shaped excavation is made, to the depth of five or six feet, at the bottom of the funnel a box containing fifty five pounds of powder is placed, with a powder-hose communicates.

Technically speaking, the fougasse was considered an improvised mortar.  In its original form, the fougasse was a hole in the ground in which powder and the desired projectile payload was set.  The stone-fougasse was simply an evolved form.  Let me offer the accompanying illustration from the Mahan’s post-war manual, as it is clearer in detail:


As you see from the caption, we have four major elements.  The powder box itself is indicated by A and A’.  Mahan described the desired structure as “A strong shield of wood, formed of battens well nailed together” and placed in front of the box.

In front of the shield over the powder is a pile of stone, marked B and B’.  These would be “three or four cubic yards of pebbles, or an equal weight of brick bats, or other materials….” Note the suggested dimensions of the funnel in front of the pile – 22 feet out and an 18 foot mouth.

The powder-hose is indicated by C and C’.  Lastly, D and D’ are, in the original text, a “powder trough tamped with sand-bags, which, with the arrangement of the earth, as shown in the section, are to prevent the load from acting to the rear.”   That being a good thing for the defender, serving to reduce damage of the works in close proximity to the stone-fougasse.

Mahan suggested, “A fougasse of this size, when sprung, will scatter pebbles over a surface sixty yards in length, and seventy yards in breadth.”  Such would do great injury to an attacker confined in the ditch or exposed in front of a salient.

Writing post-war, Junius Wheeler offered a variation on this theme:

Shell-fougasses. – A shell fougasse is a box containing loaded shells, concealed in the earth, and so arranged as to be exploded when the enemy is over the spot.

The box is divided by a partition into two parts, an upper and a lower. The loaded shells are placed in the upper part, with the fuzes downwards and connecting with the lower part by holes bored in the partition.

A charge of powder is placed in the lower division of the box of sufficient quantity, when fired, to throw the shells to the surface.  This charge is fired by means of a fuze, or electricity, like other fougasses.

Again, a nasty prospect for attackers.  But as with the caveats offered by Mahan, the defender had to take care when placing this or any other command detonated mines.

Before leaving the command detonated mines, allow me to connect two modern-day variations on the theme.  First off, command detonated mines are still used by modern armies – most notably the M18 Claymore Mine:


We see here the mine itself, marked “Front Toward Enemy.” Inside the plastic case is an explosive.  And in front of that explosive is a layer of steel projectiles.  So very much a miniature version of the stone-fougasse.  Also seen here is a spool of wire and a trigger mechanism, which also relate to elements Mahan described for his fougasses.  The optimum range of the Claymore is about 55 yards.  So we see the concept remains practical, but is much more refined.

And fougasses themselves remained in use by military forces right up to modern times.  Through the 20th century, several variations were applied.  The most often seen variation replaced rocks, shells, or other projectiles with flammable liquids:


The French being corrupted to “foo gas” by soldiers in some cases.  But you see the same basic elements of Mahan’s fougasse.  And the intended method of employment is very much the same as in Mahan’s day.

Before leaving the discussion of obstacles, let us exceed Mahan’s “lesson plan” a bit and discuss that other type of mine… called torpedo in Civil War texts… in the next installment.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 49-50;  Mahan, An Elementary Course of Military Engineering: Part 1: Field Fortifications, Military Mining, and Siege Operations, New York: John Wiley & Son, 1870, page 78;  Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, page 181.)


Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – Indiana’s Batteries, Part 2

We split the Indiana batteries in half, discussing the first twelve batteries in the last installment.  Those batteries were all posted to the Western or Trans-Mississippi Theaters.  So now we turn to the lower half of the order:


And right off the bat we see a few Eastern Theater postings.  Clerks recorded entries for eight of the thirteen batteries:

  • 13th Battery: No return.  Captain Benjamin S. Nicklin’s battery began the year posted to Gallatin, Tennessee.  Though part of the Army of the Cumberland, the battery was unattached.
  • 14th Battery: At Jackson, Tennessee with three 6-pdr field guns and one 3-inch Ordnance Rifle.  With the new year, Lieutenant Homer H. Stull commanded the battery.  Shortly into January, Lieutenant Francis W. Morse was listed as commander.  The battery came under the Sixteenth Corps with Grant’s reorganizations, but remained at Jackson.
  • 15th Battery: This battery was in Paris… Kentucky that is … with six 3-inch rifles, according to the summary.  That would be valid for later in the year.  But in March 1863 it was under Captain John C. H. von Sehlen and in transit through Indianapolis. The battery was part of Burnside’s command being transferred west.
  • 16th Battery: A return of Fort Washington, Maryland without any guns listed.  There is a faint note “Baty Stores” under the regiment column.  Lieutenant Charles R. Deming’s battery were part of the Washington Defenses.
  • 17th Battery: At Harpers Ferry, West Virginia with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Captain M. L. Miner’s battery supported the Maryland Brigade in the Eighth Corps.
  • 18th Battery:  No Return. Captain Eli Lilly’s battery was part of the reorganized Fourteenth Corps in the winter of 1863, posted in the sprawling Fortress Rosecrans at Murfreesboro.
  • 19th Battery: Also at Murfreesboro, and filing a return showing four 12-pdr Napoleons and two 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. And like the 18th, Captain Samuel J. Harris’s battery was part of Fourteenth Corps.
  • 20th Battery:  No return.  Captain Milton A. Osborne’s battery was assigned to the District of Western Kentucky.  According to an inventory posted later in June, the battery had four 12-pdr “heavy” field guns.
  • 21st Battery:  No return. Serving through the winter with the Army of Kentucky, Captain William W. Anderw’s battery transferred to the Fourteenth Corps later in June.
  • 22nd Battery: At Louisville, Kentucky with four 12-pdr Napoleons.  Under Captain Benjamin F. Denning, this battery was mustered into service in December 1862.  They were placed in the Twenty-Third Corps, Army of the Ohio later in the spring.
  • 23rd Battery:  Reporting at Indianapolis, Indiana with six 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain James H. Myers’ men were charged with guarding prisoners during the winter of 1863.
  • 24th Battery: No return. Under Captain Joseph A. Sims, the battery was just leaving the state in March 1863.  They would become part of the Twenty-Third Corps.
  • Wilder’s Battery (26th Battery): Reporting at Knoxville, Tennessee with six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  However, that location is probably reflective of the reporting date of August 20, 1864. The battery was among those surrendered at Harpers Ferry the previous campaign season. Going through the formalities of parole, the battery was actually posted at locations in Illinois and Indiana during the winter. Lieutenant Caspar W. McLaughlin was in command.  We’ll find the battery assigned to the Twenty-Third Corps later in the spring.

Notice that Wilder’s Independent Battery later received, at least on some records, the numerical designation of the 26th Battery.  The 25th Battery would not muster in until November 1864.

Moving down to the ammunition reported on hand, starting with the smoothbore types:


Three batteries reporting:

  • 14th Battery: 328 shot, 296 case, and 68 canister for 6-pdr field guns.
  • 19th Battery: 80 shot, 60 shell, 60 case, and 32 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • 22nd Battery: 216 shot, 424 shell, 424 case, and 616 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.

Hey, now!  The 22nd Battery was trying to defy the inference I made last week!  But keep in mind that battery was just coming into service in March 1863.  And by the reporting date of November 1863 (since we’ve seen that weigh on the data clerks transcribed) the battery had served as garrison artillery for several months.  Such may explain the ammunition mix.

Now on to the rifled projectiles starting with Hotchkiss:


Six lines to discuss:

  • 14th Battery: 45 canister and 162 percussion shell in 3-inch caliber.
  • 15th Battery: 360 canister, 360 fuse shell, and 1080 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 17th Battery: 250 canister, 212 fuse shell, and 719 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.
  • 19th Battery: 76 canister, 86 fuse shell, and 98 bullet shell for 3-inch.
  • 23rd Battery: 440 percussion shell and 355 fuse shell for 3.80-inch James.
  • Wilder’s Battery:  600 canister, 180 percussion shell, 362 fuse shell, and 456 bullet shell for 3-inch rifles.

Again, we see rather large quantities of canister.  But those batteries reporting also happened to be assigned rear area duties.  So we don’t necessarily have an example of a trend being bucked.  Even the 19th Battery, assigned to a field command, was placed in a fortification at the reporting period.  I’d call more attention to the 23rd Battery, which was guarding prisoners, with no canister on hand.  Guess just having a big bore James rifle on hand was scary enough.

Moving to the next page of rifled projectiles, we find scant entries to discuss:


That is for 23rd Battery, reporting 95 James-pattern 3.80-inch case on hand.

Likewise, the Schenkl page is almost bare:


14th Battery had 83 Schenkl 3-inch shells on hand.

That leaves us to the small arms:


By battery:

  • 14th Battery: Sixteen cavalry sabers.
  • 15th Battery: Sixteen Army revolvers and twenty horse artillery sabers.
  • 17th Battery: Seventeen Army revolvers, two cavalry sabers, and thirty-two horse artillery sabers.
  • 19th Battery: Twenty-five army revolvers and sixteen horse artillery sabers.
  • 22nd Battery: Thirty-two horse artillery sabers.
  • 23rd Battery: Twenty (?) horse artillery sabers,

Not a lot of excess small arms for these batteries. In particular, these Indiana artillerists didn’t have many firearms on hand.  Perhaps that’s the way their commanders preferred.  So they could focus on their larger, crew-served weapons.

Al Sieber, a desperate charge at Gettysburg, and Geronimo

The records tell us more than 175,000 men fought at Gettysburg from July 1 to July 3, 1863.  And of course, we have, from that list of participants, thousands upon thousands of stories that are woven into the larger fabric of history.  We walk the grounds of Gettysburg today and can recall epic deeds, usually speaking of the divisions, brigades, and regiments… of course the generals.  Perhaps more often than at other battlefields, because of the prominence in the recollections of the survivors, we are able to speak of individuals.

One of those epic deeds, on a day filled with such, occurred in the afternoon phase of battle on July 2.  For many, I need only offer this photo as a preface for one of those stories:


For those requiring a reminder of the incident, I offer the text of the nearby interpretive marker:

“Every man realized in an instant what that order meant – death or wounds to us all, the sacrifice of a regiment to gain a few minutes’ time…”
Lieut. William Lochren, U.S.A.
1st Minnesota Infantry

Late on the afternoon of July 2, after the collapse of the Union line at the Peach Orchard, Confederate infantry in front of you threatened to pour through a gap in the Union line here. When Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Union Second Corps, rode up to assess the situation, only one regiment was at hand to stop the Confederate tide – the 1st Minnesota.

“My God, are these all the men we have here?” Hancock asked. It was, but they would have to do. “Charge those lines!” shouted Hancock, and immediately the lone regiment swept down the slope “double quick.” With levelled bayonets, the Minnesotans crashed into Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox’s Alabamians who outnumbered them 4-to-1.

The charge broke the Confedereate ranks and stalled the Southerners long enough for Union reinforcements, but at a terrific cost. According to a regimental officer, of the 262 Minnesotans in the charge, only 47 escaped death or injury.

An action worthy of memorialization.  An act that has been recounted by many over the years.

But allow me to focus on but one of the 215 casualties among the 1st Minnesota that day. You probably know of this person better by way of Robert Duvall’s excellent portrayal in the movie “Geronimo: An American Legend.”


Albert Sieber was born in Baden, Germany in 1843.  Following the death of his father, the family immigrated to America, first settling around Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  They later relocated to Minnesota.  Under-age at the start of the Civil War, Sieber would enlist in March 1862, as “Albert Sebers” in Company B, 1st Minnesota. He first saw action during the Peninsula Campaign.

A year later, Sieber was in that formation of “all the men we have here” that Hancock had to throw into the teeth of the Confederate assault on July 2, 1863.  As with so many of his comrades, Sieber lay wounded at the close of the action, on the field.


In Al Sieber: Chief of Scouts, Dan Thrapp relates Sieber received two wounds that day – a skull fracture from a shell fragment and a terrible wound to the right leg, with ball entering the ankle and exiting near the knee. So severe the wounds, Sieber would not return to the regiment.  After almost half a year in hospitals, Sieber transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps and served on prison guard details.  He made corporal before discharged at the end of the war.

After the war, Sieber sought a fresh start in the west.  He made a living as a prospector and rancher, along with other adventures, appearing in California, Nevada, and Arizona (territory at that time) through the later half of the 1860s.  And by 1870 he’d earned a reputation as a tracker, leading to employment by General George Crook as not just a scout, but Chief of Scouts.


I’m fond of this photo of Sieber mainly because of the dress.  On a standard portrait stage of the era, we see Sieber half slouched and looking more at leisure than attention.

We have another photo of him seated in front of a team of Apache Scouts:


You’d be hard pressed to find more direct, serious gazes than on those faces.

Through the campaigns against the Apache, Sieber served as a Chief of Scouts. The role not only intertwined the Seiber story with fellow Civil War veteran Crook, but also with the likes of Charles Gatewood and Geronimo.  As we well know, thanks to Hollywood, he was a major player in the action that brought Geronimo into custody in 1886.

However, Hollywood’s version of events is far from the actual reality.  Sieber was alive and in the field at the time of Geronimo’s surrender.  No, Sieber didn’t pass away “catching a little sleep” in a Mexican cantina. Rather he continued to work in the Arizona territory as a scout.  An nor was Geronimo’s surrender the end of troubles with Apache… as but a year later Sieber was wounded while chasing the renegade Apache Kid.

The turn of the century found Sieber still working in Arizona, mostly prospecting.  On February 19, 1907 he was managing a work team of Apaches clearing a road in conjunction with the construction of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River.  Blasting left a large boulder precariously perched over the work area.  Sieber insisted the workers leave the area before the bolder fell.  But, slowed by bad leg, Sieber was not fast enough to escape the rock slide.  He was killed by the boulder.

It is said, that Al Sieber was “gunshot and arrow shot 28 times.”  For clarity, I do not know if that popularly quoted figure includes his two wounds at Gettysburg.  And I am left to wonder if it was the musket ball, that traveled from ankle to knee, at Gettysburg which gave him the limp, slowing his movement in 1907.

Regardless, I would submit the story of Al Sieber for consideration on this day – 153 years from the final day of the battle of Gettysburg.  Once again, we see the long shadow cast by the Civil War upon our history.

Canister and our silly notions about canister

It is my perception is that the average student of the Civil War latches on to some misconceptions about canister as used from field artillery.  And from that misconception, the student (buff, enthusiast, or even credentialed historian as it may be) carries forward to some misunderstandings as to how artillery was used on the Civil War battlefield.  Consider Paddy Griffith’s assessment:

The main effect of artillery came at what may be described as ‘canister range’ – the last 300 yards to the gun, sometimes extending to 500 yards. It was here that the flash and crash of the heavy Napoleons, firing two and a half pounds of powder with each detonation, could numb and stagger the enemy, even when they did not physically hurt him.

The sources provided for this observation is L. Van Loan Naisawald and Jack Coggins.  Now, Naisawald’s Grape and Canister is a good read on the artillery of the Army of the Potomac.  But it is dated (to be kind… I’ll leave it at that).  Coggins’ Arms and Equipment is a good premier for study, but not by any means authoritative on the subject of artillery.

I would say Paddy Griffith is not alone in this “weighted” assessment of artillery – and allow me to use “weighted” in two ways here.  Certainly weighted in the sense that canister was the artillery’s most effective projectile on the battlefield… and that the physical weight of the canister had some value against the infantry…. From that we see some historians attempt to devolve the tactical situation down to raw numbers:

Certainly the two Union artillery batteries had an impact, but the majority of fire came from the infantry. Artillery, even rapid firing double canister, would only be throwing 54 projectiles per tube per minute, (about 650 per minute for all twelve guns) and could keep that up only for a couple of minutes before they ran out of the proper ammo. 1000 infantry would add between 2000 and 3000 rounds per minute, assuming a normal rate of fire, and with 100 rounds apiece, and another 1000 men in support ready to step up when the front line emptied their boxes, the infantry’s fire could be sustained for a much longer time.

That quote is from a blog entry by Dave Powell from 2009.  In context, Powell was discussing a specific circumstance in the battle of Chickamauga in which the artillery was, due to the tactical setting, not employed in a location to take advantage of it’s full capabilities.  We might haggle over bad decisions by leaders on the spot, or discuss the finer points of the situation.  But that discussion starts with an assessment of what the artillery was there to do in the first place. That said, assessing the artillery’s potential killing power simply as a measure of the canister spread is to ignore 90% of the combat potential that artillery brought to the field.  And that, I would submit, is not how leaders of the time would weight their decisions regarding artillery employment.

Specifically toward that assertion, consider the standard load out of the 12-pdr Napoleon ammunition chest (since Paddy Griffith liked it) as configured according to Ordnance Department standards:

  • 12 solid shot
  • 12 spherical case (case shot as I prefer, but sometimes called shrapnel)
  • 4 shells
  • 4 canister

Multiply that times four, as a gun brought that number of chests into action between the limber and caisson, for a total of 128 rounds.  We see that canister constituted only 12% of the ammunition on hand, if we go by regulation.  However, we also know that in service many artillerists adjusted those quantities.  Henry Hunt, for example, before the Overland Campaign (and thus incorporating years of wartime service experience) suggested increasing the number of solid shot at the expense of case shot.  But at the same time he did not want an increase in canister.   So… if Henry Hunt, who we would all agree knew his business, felt that his gunners needed more solid shot, by a factor of four, than canister, what does that tell us about the preferences for projectiles on the battlefield? And furthermore, what does it say about how leaders wanted artillery to be employed?

Better still, let us turn to another authority on artillery… straight from the muzzle if I may … John Gibbon:

The kind of projectile to be used, will depend on circumstances.  Shot and shell should be fired against troops taken in flank or obliquely, against deep columns, and against artillery.  The horizontal fire should be used against troops advancing in mass to force a bridge or defile, or marching over very smooth ground.  Shot had better be used against infantry, and shells and schrapnell [case shot] against cavalry, as this latter arm presents the highest mark, and enables the pieces of the bursting shells to do more execution…. A charge, when within short range, may be received by firing from each piece a solid shot on top of which is placed a round of canister. the firing then as rapid as possible, sponging may be dispensed with, within 150 yards, and as the enemy approaches nearer, canister alone is used, pointing very low at very short ranges, so that the projectiles may ricochet and scatter more.  Canister should not be fired at distances greater than 300 to 400 yards. Shrapnell [case shot] should be used against troops deployed, or in column, by division or squadron.  Schrapnell and shells produce a greater moral effect, generally, than grape or canister.

Here we have clear guidance from one very well respected authority at the time.  We see “weighting” of the type of projectiles in the ammunition chest was indeed derived from the use preferences.  Those preferences were determined based on the intended employment of artillery on the battlefield.

Think about this – what was the artillery battery there to accomplish?

I’d submit that a short answer to that question is simply – to keep the enemy off targeted terrain.  Yes, the “ying-yang” of infantry and artillery.  Infantry was supposed to seize and hold terrain. Artillery was to keep the enemy off terrain (not necessarily to “drive him off” but where that tactical need was drawn…perhaps).  There’s more to it all, of course.  And I don’t wish to over-simplify where such carries perils.  But if we go back to the words of men like Hunt, Gibbon, Barry, and other artillerists from the war, we see that premise on exhibit.  Artillery was best used… intended to be used … in a manner to deprive the enemy of advantageous terrain.

We are coming up to an anniversary of a fine example of just how things “worked” in action.  Turn to June 30, 1862 and Battery G, 2nd US Artillery.  On that day, Captain James Thompson (another officer who knew quite a bit about how one uses artillery…) had orders to deploy his battery in what would become the battle of Glendale, or Frazier’s Farm:

In compliance with instructions from the general commanding the division the battery was posted on the right of the New Market road, supported by Berry’s and Robinson’s brigades, in order to be in position to open fire on the enemy advancing either upon the New Market road or upon the Central road.

Mission statement – Thompson’s battery would deny the use of those roads to the enemy. We may parse it all sorts of ways, but that is what the guns were there to do.  Not to hold ground.  Rather to keep the enemy from using specific terrain (roads) that would allow closer approach.

But… as in so much on the battlefield, not everything works according to plan:

About 400 yards in front was a dense wood, which approached within 100 yards on our right behind a small house. About 4 o’clock the enemy came upon us in line from this wood. I opened fire upon them with spherical case-shot, but they advanced to the débris of two fences I had caused to be thrown down in the earlier part of the day and about 100 yards in front. Canister was now used, and our supports opened fire on them with musketry, and they were stopped. The wood on the right was densely crowded with them in large force, and three successive charges to capture the battery were repulsed by the prompt and gallant supports deployed between the guns and by the murderous double canister from our guns, loaded without sponging.

So.. the Confederates were not so kind as to simply advance up the roads, but rather through the woods in front. But notice the selection of projectiles described.  Starting at 400 yards with case shot, the gunners only changed to canister when their adversary came within 100 yards.  It was self-defense range.  The frightful “double canister… without sponging.”

And the battery held its position, but not without great effort:

The battery was enabled to hold this position until about 8 p.m., after the capture of the battery on our left [Lieutenant Allen Randol’s Battery E and G, 1st U.S. Light Artillery, if memory serves], and until our supply of canister was exhausted, some guns having fired double spherical case-shot, cut to explode on leaving the gun.

To the point here, we can say canister was used with effect on that day.  But we also see that it was used for self-defense of the battery.  It was not the intent of Thompson, or any other artillerist on the field that day, to accomplish the primary mission by means of canister fire.  Just worked out the plan fell apart and weight of canister, along with some case shot, is what saved all but one of Thompson’s guns.

Likewise, we could roll forward one year and a few days to July 2, 1863 and consider several other batteries in tight situations using canister… some also employing double canister without sponging to speed the delivery.  But in all those cases we see a common underlying factor.  Like Thompson’s battery the year before, Captain James E. Smith’s 4th New York was not deployed on the Devil’s Den for the purpose of spewing canister at close range.  Rather it was placed with the intent to keep the Confederates off ground approaching the position.  Circumstances played out differently, as we well know.

Accounts from July 2 are filled with artillerists reporting canister at close range.  But that was an exceptional use on an exceptional day.  We need only say the words “Peach Orchard” and “Dan Sickles” to rejuvenate a 150 year old discussion of plans gone awry. You see, it was more exception than the rule that batteries would be “hard pressed” into self-defense using canister. Rather more often batteries would be employed to do as the artillery chief envisioned over longer ranges.  As such, the artillerists would accomplish their mission with shot, shell, and case. And, by design, that is what made up nearly 90% of the ammunition on hand.

(Citations, other than those linked above, are from  – Paddy Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, Page 170; John Gibbon, Artillerist’s Manual, new York: D. Van Nostrand, 1863, page 359; OR, Series I, Volume 11, Part II, Serial 13, page 172.)

Fortification Friday: Inundations – the wet obstacle

Some might contend the study of fortifications is a dry subject.  No so!  Not at all!  In fact, there is one form of obstacle which is all wet – the inundation.  The basic idea for an inundation was to employ water as a barrier against enemy movement.  Unless possessing some form of divine powers, the attacker could not charge through such a water barrier.  And nobody wants to attack a parapet wearing wet wool uniforms!

Certainly, a river, lake, or other large body of water would make a significant obstacle.  But let us consider those obstacles to maneuver or approach to the fortification.  If you will, an obstacle at the “macro” level.  And, yes these would prevent the enemy from getting near the fort from one or more directions.  However, for purposes of constructing a field fortification, we are looking more to the “micro” level.  Thus the need is an obstacle that would break up an attack directly on the fort.  Rarely will nature provide the perfect water feature – a pond, swamp, creek, or other – to form such an obstacle.  Often for that purpose, we would need to modify the natural water drainage in a manner to create the desired inundation.  Mahan summarized this sort of obstacle as such:

Inundations. This obstacle is formed by damming back a shallow water-course, so as to make it overflow its valley. To be effective, an inundation should be six feet deep. When this depth cannot be procured, trous-de-loup, or else short ditches, placed in a quincunx order, are dug, and the whole is covered with a sheet of water, which, at the ditches, must be at least six feet in depth.

Twice we see the planning figure of six feet of depth.  Obviously this derived from the average height of a man.

The dam, of course, was the key structure in this arrangement:

The dams used to form an inundation are made of good binding earth.  They cannot, in general, be raised higher than ten feet; they need not be thicker than five feet at top, unless they are exposed to a fire of artillery, in which case they should be regulated in the same way as a parapet.  The slope of the dam down-stream should be the natural slope of the earth; but up-stream the slope should have a base twice that of the natural slope.

In the post-war edition of his treatise, Mahan offered in addition to just earth, the dam could be created with a “crib-work of logs filled in with stone, gravel, and earth” or “successive layers of fascines and gravel.”  The fine points of the dam construction lay more in the realm of civil engineering.  And to those points, Mahan recognized the need for features to maintain the dam against its natural adversary – the impounded water:

Sluices are made in the dams in a similar manner to the sluices of a mill-dam, for the purpose of regulating the level of the water in the pool above, in case of heavy rains.  Waste-wiers are also serviceable for the same purpose, but unless carefully made they may endanger the safety of the dam.

No fancy graphics for us to refer to here.  But from the description, Mahan preferred sluices that channeled the top of the impounded water, and thus over the top of or to the side of the dam.  And he warned against wiers that would require openings within the dam’s structure.  Sort of makes sense from the military perspective.  Wiers are more attractive for the civil engineer who need not worry about enemy artillery.

In most scenarios, more than one dam would be needed to build an inundation obstacle.  So we must consider placement:

The distance of the dams apart will depend on the slope of the stream.  The level of each pool should be at least eighteen inches below the top of the dam, and the depth of water below each dam should be at least six feet. These data will suffice to determine the center line, or axis of each dam.

So there you have it.. call upon the topographical engineers!

Mahan continued to offer advice on employment of inundations in the defense:

Artificial inundations seldom admit of being turned to an effective use, owing to the difficulties in forming them, and the ease with which they can be drained by the enemy.  But when it is practicable to procure only a shallow sheet of water, it should not be neglected, as it will cause some apprehension to the enemy. In some cases, by damming back a brook, the water may be raised to a level sufficient to be conducted into the ditches of the work, and render some parts unassailable. The ditches in such cases should be made very wide, and to hold about a depth of six feet.

Yes, a lot of planning and work was needed to create an inundation.  And that might be undone within a day by simply breaching the dam.  Still, the inundation was attractive were water could be employed, as a by-product of the impoundment, to enhance the properties of the other defensive features of the fortification.

And… when the weather turned cold…

During freezing weather the ice should be broken in the middle of the ditch, and a channel of twelve feet at least be kept open, if practicable. The ice taken out should be piled up irregularly on each side of the channel; and, as a further precaution against a surprise, water should be thrown on the parapet to freeze.

Nothing worse than being wet and cold while looking up at some “frowning” defenses.

Turning back to the vulnerability of the dam, point offered in Mahan’s post-war edition impressed the need to defend those structures:

In a system of inundations the dams should, as far as practicable, be built at points the least exposed to the fire of the assailed.  The head of each dam, on the side of the enemy, should be secured from surprise by a redan, stoccade, or other defense, and the dam itself and its approaches should be swept by musketry and artillery.

Overall, these artificial inundations were somewhat a luxury for the defender.  In addition to all the work building parapets, ditches, traverses, revetments, and other obstacles, would the defender have time to play in the water and build dams?  However, consider also that where running water was close by, the defender had more to worry about with erosion.  A well placed dam might serve as a control measure against that “enemy” of the works.

Perhaps Junius Wheeler had the best assessment of the inundation as an obstacle:

If the depth of the water over the approaches is greater than five feet, the obstacle may be considered as practically insurmountable.

If the depth is less, the obstacle is still a serious one….

You see, soldiers just don’t like water.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 48-49;  Mahan, An Elementary Course of Military Engineering: Part 1: Field Fortifications, Military Mining, and Siege Operations, New York: John Wiley & Son, 1870, pages 77-8;  Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, page 181.)


Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – Indiana’s Batteries, Part 1

After some “time away” let me resume work on the summary statements for first quarter, 1863.  In clerk’s sequence, the next state’s batteries to review are those of Indiana.  For fourth quarter, 1862, I listed twenty-one batteries in one post.  And for the first quarter of 1863 we have twenty five batteries to consider:


For brevity, I’ll break them down into parts this go around. In this installment, let us focus on the first twelve batteries:


Plenty enough to discuss with those twelve:

  • 1st Battery:  No report. Through the winter, the battery was in the Department of the Missouri, District of St. Louis, in the Second Division of that district.  However, along with its parent brigade, the battery was transferred starting April 1863 to Fourteenth Division, Thirteenth Corps to join the forces operating against Vicksburg.  Captain Martin Klauss commanded.
  • 2nd Battery: Reporting at Springfield, Missouri with two 6-pdr field guns and four 3.80-inch James Rifles. Lieutenant Hugh Espey commanded this battery, assigned to the District of Southwestern Missouri.
  • 3rd Battery: Also indicated as at Springfield, Missouri but with two 6-pdr field guns, two 12-pdr Napoleons, and two 3.67-inch rifles. Also part of the District of Southwestern Missouri, Captain James M. Cockefair commanded this battery.
  • 4th Battery:  At Murfreesboro, Tennessee with two 12-pdr Napoleons, two 12-pdr field howitzers, and two 3.80-inch James Rifles. Captain Asahel Bush retained command that spring, with assignment to Third Division, Twentieth Corps.  Later in the spring, Lieutenant David Fansburg assumed command with battery moved to First Division, Fourteenth Corps.
  • 5th Battery: At Shell Mound, Tennessee with two 12-pdr Napoleons, one 10-pdr Parrott, and one 3.80-inch James Rifle. Shell Mound was a landing on the Tennessee River downstream from Chattanooga.  And that location was probably valid for the reporting time of December 1863.  In March 1863, the battery was with Second Division, Twentieth Corps, at Murfreesboro.  Captain Peter Simonson moved up to command the division’s artillery brigade, leaving Lieutenant Alfred Morrison with the battery.
  • 6th Battery: Reporting from Lafayette, Tennessee with two 6-pdr field guns and two 3.80-inch James Rifles. Officially assigned to First Division, Sixteenth Corps, Captain Michael Mueller commanded. The battery had postings across west Tennessee until June, when dispatched with the rest of the division to Vicksburg.
  • 7th Battery: McMinnville, Tennessee with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 10-pdr Parrotts. Captain George R. Swallow’s battery supported Third Division, Twenty-First Corps as the Army of the Cumberland reorganized at Murfreesboro through the winter.  Though McMinnville appears to be derived from the August report filing.
  • 8th Battery: No return. Captain George Estep retained command of this battery.  In the winter reorganizations, the battery was posted to First Division, Twenty-First Corps at Murfreesboro.
  • 9th Battery: No return. Lieutenant George R. Brown commanded this battery, assigned to Fourth Division, Sixteenth Corps.  It was left behind that spring to garrison the District of Columbus, in Kentucky.
  • 10th Battery: At Murfreesboro, Tennessee with two 12-pdr field howitzers and four 10-pdr Parrotts. Captain Jerome B. Cox held command when the battery was assigned to First Division, Twenty-First Corps that winter.  Later in the spring Lieutenant William A. Naylor assumed command.
  • 11th Battery: No return. Captain Arnold Sutermeister’s battery began the winter assigned to the Army of the Cumberland’s artillery reserve at Nashville.  Spring found them assigned to Third Division, Twentieth Corps, preparing for the Tullahoma Campaign at Murfreesboro.
  • 12th Battery: At Nashville, Tennessee as siege artillery.  The fort is named, but I cannot transcribe it directly.  Returns list the battery assigned to Fort Negley, with four 4.5-inch Ordnance siege rifles under Captain James E. White.

We see seven of these twelve batteries assigned to the Army of the Cumberland.  Three were posted to Grant’s command, though only two would be active in the field for the Vicksburg Campaign.  And two were posted to southwest Missouri.  As for armament, from the batteries reporting we see six 6-pdr field guns, eight Napoleons, four 12-pdr howitzers, nine Parrotts, nine James Rifles, and two of those rifled 6-pdr “look-alikes” to the James.  The latter is interesting to flag.  We see again the artillerists and ordnance authorities indicating a difference between the 3.80-inch and 3.67-inch rifles, in the forms.

A lot of smoothbore ammunition to account for:


As nearly every battery reporting had a smoothbore or two:

  • 2nd Battery: 241 shot, 400 case, and 191 canister for 6-pdr field guns.
  • 3rd Battery: 105 shot, 141 case, and 132 canister for 6-pdr field guns; 136 shot, 406 shell,  227 case, and 300 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • 4th Battery: 96 shot, 32 shell, 96 case, and 32 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons; 79 shell, 96 case, and 66 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • 5th Battery: 96 shot, 32 shell, 94 case, and 33 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • 6th Battery: 320 shot, 160 case, and 80 canister for 6-pdr field guns.
  • 7th Battery: 24 shot, 8 shell, 28 case, and 8 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons.
  • 10th Battery: 115 shell, 100 case, and 116 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.

Moving to the rifled columns, we find no Hotchkiss projectiles reported on hand.  On the next page, we can focus on James and Parrott projectiles (full page posted for review):


Looking at the James projectiles first:

  • 2nd Battery: 120 shot and 176 shell in 3.80-inch.
  • 3rd Battery: 52 shot, 273 shell, and 24 canister in 3.80-inch.
  • 4th Battery: 16 shot and 12 canister for 3.80-inch.

The presented quantities beg questions.  First, 3rd Battery had 2.67-inch rifles, as tallied in the first page but apparently had 3.80-inch projectiles.  So we must assume one or the other figure is incorrect.  Second, what about 5th and 6th Batteries and their James?  Well half of that question will be answered later.

And the Parrotts:

  • 5th Battery: 145 shell and 24 canister in 2.9-inch (10-pdr).
  • 7th Battery:  210 shell and 380 case in 2.9-inch.
  • 10th Battery:  463 shell, 225 case, and 94 canister in 2.9-inch.

Here we see a nice match to the reported weapons and projectiles on hand.

Moving to columns for Schenkl’s and Tatham’s projectiles, we have half an answer to a question:


  • 4th Battery: 205 Schenkl shell for 3.80-inch rifle; 35 Tatham canister for 3.80-inch.
  • 5th Battery: 90 Schenkl shell for 3.80-inch; 32 Tatham canister for 3.80-inch rifle.

So we still don’t know what the 6th Battery had on hand for its James rifles, but the 5th had Schenkl shells and Tatham canister.

Moving to the small arms:


By battery:

  • 2nd Battery: Twenty-eight Army revolvers and twenty-eight cavalry sabers.
  • 3rd Battery:  Three Navy revolvers and ten horse artillery sabers.
  • 4th Battery: Twenty-six Army revolvers and ten cavalry sabers.
  • 5th Battery: Seven horse artillery sabers.
  • 6th Battery: Twenty-four Cavalry Sabers.
  • 7th Battery: Only two cavalry sabers.
  • 10th Battery: Twenty Army revolvers and nine cavalry sabers.

An allocation of small arms within reason for artillerists assigned to, presumably, strictly artillery duties.

We’ll look at the other half of the Indiana batteries in the next installment.

Fortification Friday: Crows-foot, Small Pickets and Entanglements could put you on the disabled list

A fine point about the functional nature of obstacles – determent value is measured in both the ability to impede and injure.  You might call it a philosophical nuance, in context of the military art, but the distinction is important when considering the application of obstacle types.  In practical terms, recall how the abattis and palisade were employed. These were designed, first and foremost, to slow the attackers’ forward progress, if not bar such entirely, by standing on the line of advance.  Granted, if the obstruction were oriented properly and the attacker approaches with a high rate of speed, there could be injuries.  An abattis is all fun and games until someone looses and eye!  But even with a chevaux-de-frise, with the specified iron points, an attacker would need to do something really… well… awkward to induce a blood-letting injury.  Their chief value lay in slowing or stopping the attacker just by being in the way.

On the other hand, there were obstacles that by nature were designed to draw blood.  One of those was the crows-foot.  Mahan described this obstacle as such:

The crows-foot is formed of four points of iron, each spike about two-and-a-half inches long, and so arranged, that when thrown on the ground one of the points will be upwards.  They are a good obstacle against cavalry, but are seldom used.

Crows-foot are called caltrop among audiences which prefer Latin.  Being an American, I eschew those fancy European terms where possible. Crows-foot sounds more “country.”  Any rate, here’s what we are referring to:


Despite Mahan’s lack of enthusiasm for the crows-foot, the obstacle type remains in use today.  The term is used to describe large concrete and steel obstacles designed to deter armored vehicles.  Or on the beach to stop landing craft.  To some degree it is an “offensive” obstacle… and in both senses of the word.  And for emphasis here, the crows-foot doesn’t actually block movement, it injures so as to debilitate – be that a horse, a man, or, in the modern sense, a vehicle.

The downside to crows-feet was the nature of emplacement.  Being sown, or basically scattered, and not pinned down, the crows-feet were not easily delineated for the defender’s convenience.  An alternative was a simple field expedient:

Boards, with sharp nails driven through them, may supply the place of crows-feet.  The boards are imbedded in the ground, with the sharp points projecting a little above it.

This, readers, is why soldiers need tetanus shots.  Embedded in the ground, the boards could be arranged in a pattern, identified for the defender, but with the nails concealed in the dirt or surface debris.  Junius Wheeler added another alternative in his post-war manual, mentioning the farmer’s harrow.


Buried upside down, the spikes of the harrow would likewise injure an unwary foot.

We don’t see many references to crows-foot or similar obstructions in the Civil War.  Not to say these were not used, but rather their use was not deliberately noted.  On the other hand, we see many references to small pickets with added entanglements.  We should start by explaining small pickets:

Small Pickets. This obstacle consists of straight branches of tough wood cut into lengths of two-and-a-half, or three feet.  They are driven into the ground, in quincunx order, about twelve inches apart, and project irregularly above it, not more than eighteen inches.

We have Figure 26 from Mahan’s manual to illustrate where the small picket might be used in the ditch:


Better yet, let us turn to Wheeler’s illustration:


The key point to latch on to here is the arrangement.  Unlike the stakes in military pits, these are arranged in close order with the aim to force the attacker to think about where his foot is placed, lest the small picket pierce the foot.  One might say the intent of the small picket was to discourage.  But the threat behind that discouragement was that of a skewered foot.   In function, the small picket was much like the punji stake from the Vietnam War:


So again we see the obstacle could be “offensive” in application.  But in the Civil War context, booby-traps of this nature were not widely used.  The need was for an obstacle that would stop a massed attack, not a trail patrol.  So we read in many accounts of an enhancement to the small pickets:

Interlaced with cords, grape-vines, brambles, prickly shrubs, &c., they form an excellent entanglement.

And in the 1860s, engineers would add one readily available material to that list – wire. Wheeler described the arrangement as, “… made by driving stout stakes into the ground from six to eight feet apart and connecting them by stout wire twisted around the stakes.”  This was an easy obstacle to set up, with materials easily obtained.


Fine point of observation here – Mahan’s entanglements were offered as a means to enhance the small pickets.  Basically, the intent was to trip the attacker onto the small pickets.  In Wheeler’s entanglements, which reflected wartime experience, the tripping on the wire itself was sufficient deterrent.  Thus the pickets could be spread out more. An excellent description of such comes from Major Thomas Brooks in his extensive journal of operations on Morris Island in 1863:

This obstacle was made by setting stout stakes, 3½ feet long, 2 feet in the ground and 7 feet apart, in quincunx order, and in three lines.  Around the top of these stakes, from 12 to 18 inches from the ground, in notches prepared to receive it, No. 12 wire was securely and tightly wound, and extended from one to the other.

Brooks reported laying 300 yards of wire entanglement on Morris Island, requiring 13 coils of wire (length unspecified) and an additional 890 feet of loose wire.

The function of Brooks’ entanglement obstacle was to deter by the threat of injury – lest the attacker be bruised and banged up from tripping.  Perhaps a little nicer than Mahan’s little impaling stakes.  But still an obstacle designed to injure.  And of course, with the perspective of history, we recognize Brooks wire entanglement as an evolutionary step towards barbed wire of World War I and later concertina wire. In those forms, we see the obstacle designed not just to trip and bruise but to draw blood.  Either way around, bruised, banged, cut, or impaled, the soldier was thus a casualty… and if lucky just placed on the disabled list.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, page 48;  Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, page 173; OR, Series I, Volume 28, Part I, Serial 46, page 304.)